A July USA Today article titled "Churches boost security as violent incidents grow" reported that "the number of deadly episodes at sanctuaries has soared over the last decade, and mass shootings at schools, malls and movie theaters have left Americans feeling like it could happen anywhere."
As I noted last week, there were roughly only 10 incidents of church violence across the U.S a decade ago. In 2007, there were 41 incidents. In 2009, there were 108. In 2012, there were more than 135. And by mid-July 2013, there were already 58.
Why the increases? There are likely many reasons. Several of them are related to the reasons there are increased shootings in schools and government facilities across the country. Yet there are undoubtedly a few unique reasons, too.
USA Today further explained, "Security experts also point to a growing hostility toward differing beliefs as one of the reasons for the trend of violence aimed at houses of worship."
I ended last week's column by saying there's a balance between faith and defense, but I believe we're called to have both. One verse in the Scriptures reads, "But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat."
Gary Cass, chairman of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, told veteran WorldNetDaily reporter Bob Unruh: "Self-defense is not just a right but a Christian duty. Jesus told his followers, 'If you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.' Christians are not to be a soft target for the hateful and deranged. Church leaders have a duty not to allow a crazed gunman to come and shoot up their congregation."
Shreveport, La., pastor Ed Gonzalez told KSLA-TV that someone once entered his office with violent intent. Gonzalez explained, "He walked in my office and told me God told him to take me out." Gonzalez was fortunately able to talk him down.
The event helped Gonzalez to see what easy targets churches can be and to warn other clergy of the same. He now has security measures in place to ensure that he and his congregation are not caught off guard or undefended if they ever are assaulted again.
Gonzalez warned: "Pastors need to awake and realize that we live in a world of turmoil, hatred and bitterness, so they have to do something to protect those sheep. As long as there is sin on this earth, we're going to have violence."
With the holiday season approaching fast, it's a shame that houses of worship have to consider their safety among their festival preparations, but such is a sign of our times.
If a church has no safety and security plan, I recommend the following:
--Send this column to your local clergy and church leadership; tell them, "Chuck told me to!"
--Consult church security groups and websites -- such as http://www.carlchinn.com, http://www.securityatchurch.com, http://www.copandcross.org and others -- for safety and self-defense information.
--Also check out book resources -- such as "Keeping Your Church Safe," by Ron Aguiar, who is Southeast Christian Church's director of safety and security. Another great book is Carl Chinn's "Evil Invades Sanctuary," Chapter 4 of which provides sound guidance on setting up a faith-based security operation. Another possibility is "Church Safety and Security: A Practical Guide," by Robert M. Cirtin, John M. Edie and Dennis K. Lewis. An excellent book and DVD combo is "Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self-Defense," which tells the story of how one man saved many lives in a congregation gathered in prayer and answers some basic questions about church security.
--Seek out church safety seminars and training conventions, such as those offered by Chinn or the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management (http://www.nacssm.org). Sheepdog Seminars for Churches' first seminar is Feb. 21-22, 2014, in Denver (http://www.sheepdogseminarsforchurches.com).
--I also recommend that church leaders come together with local law enforcement -- maybe even officials who are a part of their congregation -- to discuss church safety. At the very least, I'm certain these public servants and trained defenders with licenses for concealed weapons would be more than willing to volunteer by manning a post discreetly at public events.
--Lastly, prepare an emergency plan. Christianity Today cited Andrew G. Mills from Building Church Leaders, who said, "If a shooter gets in:
--"Pastors or other visible leaders should draw attention away from the congregation.
--"Throw hymnals, yell from multiple directions, and attempt to tackle shooter from behind en masse.
--"Establish communication with the police as soon as possible. (Preferably, only those on the church's crisis response team should call 911.)
--"When police arrive, stay on the ground until you are told to move. When told to get up, move slowly with no objects in your hand."
Reported incidents of church violence have risen radically, but never forget that statistically speaking, houses of worship are still the safest places in the world.
Here's how being in a sanctuary measures up against other exit tickets from planet Earth, according to Christianity Today:
--"The (chances) you will die in the next 12 months from an injury are about 1 in 1,681."
--In a car accident, the odds are 1 in 6,539.
--In a plane crash: 1 in 502,554.
--From a wasp or bee sting: 1 in 3,615,940.
--From a lightning strike: 1 in 6,177,230.
--From church violence: 1 in 18,393,327.
Just because God and the odds are with us, however, doesn't mean we should check our security brains at the door of faith. We're not likely to be struck by lightning, either, but that doesn't mean we should walk around holding up a long metal rod during a thunderstorm.
God has not given us a spirit of fear, but he hasn't given us a spirit of foolishness, either.
No one should hesitate to attend houses of worship and their special events this holiday season. At the same time, during everything from harvest festivals (Halloween alternatives) to Christmas services, no church should go without a security plan and team to protect its people in case of emergency.
'Tis the season to increase church security.